COVID Patients Showing Less Severe Symptoms, U.K. Vaccine Minister Says

LONDON  (Reuters) -
Signs on display at the window of a local government office, supplying free antigen self-test kits, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Monday. (REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)

People being hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom are broadly showing less severe symptoms than before, Britain’s vaccine minister said on Tuesday, adding there was no need for further restrictions at this stage.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisted imposing stringent lockdown measures in England ahead of last week as omicron fueled a spike in cases to record highs.

While hospitalizations are rising they have not tracked the trajectory of daily cases, possibly reflecting the impact of vaccines and booster shots, the likely lower severity of omicron and the time lag in people going to the hospital.

“At the moment, if you look at the people who have been hospitalized, they are going in with less severe conditions than before,” Minister for Vaccines and Public Health Maggie Throup told Sky News, adding that the “Plan B” Johnson brought in in December was working.

“The numbers that are in hospital beds is about half what it was a year ago – and that just shows the power of the vaccine.”

Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said that while infections in London in under-50s may have plateaued, the incredibly steep spike in that age group had not yet had time to spread to older age groups, which are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“We may see a different pattern in hospitalizations. Hospitalizations are still generally going up across the country, and we may see high levels for some weeks,” he told BBC Radio.

“Vaccination is holding up in terms of protection against severe disease, assisted by the fact that omicron almost certainly is substantially less severe, but it still puts pressures on the health system.”

Soaring case numbers have led to substantial disruption due to staff self-isolating, with train operators canceling trains in London, hospitals lacking staff and schools facing teacher shortages as term restarts in England.